Teaching as Attitude: The Staying Power of John Dewey

My thoughts on the relevance and power of John Dewey, just in time for Labo(u)r Day.

Teaching & Learning in Higher Ed.

"Example is notoriously more potent than precept." —John Dewey, Democracy and Education (1916)by Daniel Richards

We have all heard of John Dewey.

The native of Burlington, Vermont, (1859-1952) has been on U.S. stamps; he protected academic freedom by co-founding the American Association of University Professors (AAUP); his articulation of inquiry undergirds most student-centered and service learning teaching approaches; he was one of the foremost contributors to the development of (despite his disdain for the term) Pragmatism, perhaps America’s greatest contribution to philosophy; and he most likely occupies a full shelf in your university library, having written copiously for over sixty years on pretty much everything, from education to politics to anthropology to social psychology to aesthetics to ethics to communication. There is perhaps no one more prominent within the American educational consciousness than Dewey.

But do we really know John Dewey?

Writing from the late nineteenth to early twentieth centuries, Dewey is usually—and rightfully—associated with thinkers from a wide variety of…

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Contribute to a new podcast on pedagogy

Kyle Stedman is precisely the individual who should be doing this podcast.

Transmedia Me

Greetings! I’ve recently agreed to host and produce a new monthly podcast on pedagogy. Fun, right?

Though the podcast will focus on pedagogy, it will probably especially also cover the other things I’m interested in: digital technology, multimodal assignments, rhetorics of sound and music, intellectual property, fan studies, and kind of everything else, as long as it connects to teaching in some way.

What I Need

For my firstest episode ever, I need your help. I’d like to collect short audio clips from amazing post-secondary teachers around the country (world?) answering the following prompt:

What do you do online to prepare for your classes each semester? What digital tools do you use? What spaces do you set up for yourself and for your students?

Do you have something that you could share in a one-minute audio file (max)? (I bet you do. You think you don’t, but you do. You’re amazing.)

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Writing Students as Flattened, Non-Enriched Soil

To say that metaphors are a dominant trope in reflections on teaching practice is a rather sizable understatement.

In his 1989 article, “Bridging the Gaps: Understanding Our Students’ Metaphors for Composing,” Lad Tobin relays an excerpt from an interview of a student who viewed the writing process through a slightly different metaphorical lens than did Tobin:

You see, that’s the whole problem. Writing is a lasagna to me. There are layers and you have to put them together carefully and then you are done. But you keep saying that I have to narrow my focus. You are trying to turn my lasagna into a meat loaf and I don’t like meat loaf. (455, emphasis added)

Tobin’s anecdote, while humorous, illuminates an important point: many of the conflicts we have with our students on a pedagogical level can not only be addressed through explicit discussions of metaphor but are direct causes of dissonance between the metaphors we have and the metaphors our students have. And while English educators as a whole have addressed metaphor thoroughly (see Bowden; Cooper; Faigley; Fleckenstein; Mead and Morris; Reynolds; Smith; Tobin) in many ways pertaining to teaching roles and methods, one way that is lacking is in what Tobin refers to as “bridging the gaps”: assessing, analyzing, and teaching students how to be critical users of metaphor to see how theirs match up with ours.

The consistent, explicit integration of metaphor into my own teaching practices stems from a frustrating trend in the literature of composition pedagogy to be teacher-centric in its discussions of metaphor. Most thoughtful, reflective instructors are quickly able to respond to the question, “What metaphor guides your teaching?” but are perhaps, in my estimation, less likely to have a quick response to the question, “What metaphors do your students subscribe to when writing?”, or even, “How do students challenge or respond to the resulting metaphors of your choosing?” Tobin’s comic relief above relays the reality that the metaphors students have for writing, and education broadly, differ at times fundamentally from the ones we use to teach.

We are accustomed to thinking about our own metaphors for our teaching selves; however, each metaphor we conceive of ourselves as embodying necessarily places students in their own position (if I am a cultivator then my students necessarily take the form of flattened, non-enriched soil, and so on). Metaphor is a powerful tool, as we have collectively acknowledged. As such, we should be more explicit in the ways we get students to hone this tool.